Arrowleaf balsamroot flowers growing on hillside
Arrowleaf balsamroot is just one native wildflower species among many growing on the Big Hole NB horse pasture hillside.

NPS photo

Root foods and fish were the primary staples of the traditional Nez Perce diet. The “root foods” include all plants (usually hehen, “soft” herbaceous plants) with underground parts used for food: roots, bulbs, tubers, corms, and rhizomes. Nez Perce people enjoyed a great diversity of root food plants. Some neighboring groups had just a few kinds of root foods abundant in their home territories and relied on trade with the Nez Perce for roots that were unavailable.

Native Elk Thistle in bloom.
Elk thistle may be found near the Nez Perce encampment area below the park Visitor Center.

NPS photo

The flowering of a root food plant (Lomatium canbyi) marked the beginning of spring in traditional Nez Perce society. Root foods were dug with the efficiently-designed digging stick, the tukus. The most important Nez Perce root foods in and around the Big Hole valley were kouse (Lomatium spp.), camas (Camassia quamash), and yampah (Perideridia gairdneri). By far, more kouse and camas were stored for winter use than any other plant foods. Lomatiums were the earliest source of fresh spring greens, and another spring vegetable included shoots of balsamroot (Balsamorhiza spp.). Bitterroot (Lewisia redeviva) and wapato were also favored roots and can still be found in the early summer on the open hillsides at Big Hole National Battlefield.


English Name

Nez Perce Name


qe qi’ t







arrowleaf balsamroot



lita n

Last updated: October 29, 2019

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